Rhythm & Views

Neko Case

Hot damn, that voice. I know it's old hat to comment on Neko Case's fantastic pipes, but approximately four years after her last solo studio effort, they seem to be even stronger. If you buy only one alt-country album by a red-headed singer this year, make it Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (sorry Jenny Lewis, sort of). It's one of the year's early masterpieces, thanks in part to Case's soaring vocals, her knack for witty and poignant songwriting, and the help of a few good friends.

Neko has recruited the dream team list of Calexico's Joey and John, Howe Gelb, The Sadies, Kelly Hogan and Garth Hudson (yes, from The Band). Thankfully, none of these contributions are superfluous, with the album a succinct 12 tracks clocking in at just more than 35 minutes. It doesn't hurt that the overall professionalism of the gang translates to the sound of a tight-knit, seasoned band throughout the album.

Whether it is a country-inflected, car-crash ballad ("Star Witness") or a murky, noir-country tune ("Fox Confessor Brings the Flood"), Case and her fellow musicians prove unflappable. Even better, the album was recorded in Tucson, at Wavelab Studios, which aids to its genuine, true-blue alt-country sound.

Each track is a possible favorite, and the biggest struggle is selecting one. With the hushed "Maybe Sparrow," the choral "A Widow's Toast," and the hazy "The Needle Has Landed," there is something for all tastes. Let's just hope Ms. Case doesn't make us wait another four years to make such difficult decisions.

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